Have you ever been, or considered going, to Belize to provide professional service or as a service-learning student? During the past 3 years, I have fallen in love with my “adopted second home," and have had the privilege of taking several of our MOT and UIndy pre-occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) students and a couple of School of Occupational Therapy faculty there with me on a yearly basis to provide brief OT intervention. This summer I am ever so excited to be teaching Seminar in International Practice, which will allow me and my co-trip leader, Krannert School of Physical Therapy faculty member Dr. Bill Staples, to take 5 postprofessional OT and PT students, 5 DPT students, and 2 OT/PT guests to Belize for 2 weeks in July for service-learning and service-provision activities with a wide variety of Belizean partners. One of the really neat things about these trips is that we are pioneers in most senses of the word (although we do stay in air-conditioned accommodations!), as there are currently no practicing OTs (that I’m aware of) and very few practicing PTs in Belize.
Belize is a developing country, who just won her independence from Great Britain in 1981. As a fairly new nation, she is working to develop sustainable infrastructures, and take care of her people, who comprise a mix of rich cultural backgrounds and lifestyles (including people of Mayan, Mestizo, Asian, Lebanese, Mennonite, Indian, and Creole descent, along with many “ex-pats” who have emigrated there from the U.S., Canada, and Europe). The national language is English; although of course there are those who primarily speak Spanish or one of the Mayan dialects. Belize is truly a beautiful country, with her numerous ruins, caves, beaches, and other “tourist attractions”, but what really brings me back there time after time, and makes me long to be there once I return home, is the openness and friendly, welcoming nature of everyone whom I’ve met there—all are so appreciative of our therapeutic and service-related gifts, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to us.
When I went on my first spring trip there in 2009 as a co-trip leader of a student trip, I worked to gather oral histories from residents of a retirement center in San Ignacio. The following year I took 3 MOT students back with me to the same facility. Last year, we grew to 8 MOT students, 2 faculty, and a school in addition to the retirement center. This summer, we will partner with the original facilities plus 2 additional retirement centers, another primary school, CARE-Belize (which is like our first-steps, serving children from birth to school-age), NaRCIE (the National Resource Center for Inclusive Education), for school-aged children, a karate club, 2 local physicians, and a hospice nurse providing home care in San Ignacio and Belize City. Whew! The word is out! But I believe we are up to the challenge, despite limited resources—we have brave hearts, after all!
So, I return to my first question: Are you interested in going to Belize to provide professional OT or PT service, or get some life-changing service-learning experience? If so, I can help you fulfill that dream!
Candy Beitman, EdD, OTR
Associate Professor, College of Health Sciences
University of Indianapolis